Commentary

Rangers win a classic with walk-off slam

Nelson Cruz hit two HRs to give Texas thrilling victory, and commanding lead in ALCS

Originally Published: October 10, 2011
By Jim Caple | ESPN.com

ARLINGTON, Texas -- Who needs the Yankees and Red Sox anyway?

No one has body-slammed a septuagenarian coach to the turf, taken the mound with a bloody sock or questioned the ancestry of an ace pitcher. But give the Rangers and Tigers some time. The American League Championship Series is only two games old and already we've had a one-run win end with the tying run on first, a rainout on a day when it didn't rain, an injured player unexpectedly return to action and a walk-off grand slam by a player with a wrist turned black-and-blue by a pitch in his previous plate appearance.

Nelson Cruz's 11th-inning bomb into the left-field seats to win Game 2 on Monday -- his second home run of the game and third of the series -- was the first walk-off grand slam in postseason history (Robin Ventura's game-winning blast in the 1999 NLCS was officially scored a single) and it ended a game so nerve-racking that Texas reliever Scott Feldman said, "When I got done watching that game I thought my beard was going to turn gray."

Heck, the Rangers' 7-3 victory not only lasted long enough for Feldman's beard to go gray, it was almost long enough for starter Derek Holland's ludicrous mustache to fill in completely. The game took 4 hours and 25 minutes, required six Rangers pitchers and left most of the states of Texas and Michigan without cuticles and in need of defibrillators.

"It was one of the most amazing games I've ever participated in. If that game didn't get highly rated, then I don't know what," Texas pitcher C.J. Wilson said. "… I was at the point where I was going to say, 'Hey I'm going to put some cleats on and go to the bullpen.'"

You can't blame him. Everyone wanted to play in this game, including guys who weren't even on the series roster when the day began. Or at least that was the situation for Detroit in the morning when it activated outfielder Delmon Young to replace Magglio Ordonez, who broke his ankle in Game 1. The Tigers initially left Young off the ALCS roster Friday due to a strained oblique, but with an improved diagnosis Monday morning and few options, manager Jim Leyland put him in uniform and batted him third in the lineup. He went hitless in four at-bats before leaving for a defensive replacement.

Meanwhile, the player who actually subbed for Ordonez in the field, Ryan Raburn, hit a three-run home run off Holland in the third inning to turn a 2-0 deficit into a 3-2 Detroit lead. As Rangers manager Ron Washington and country music singer Merle Haggard would say, "That's the way baseball go."

Michael Young We definitely recognized the kind of game we were in and we did want to make sure we were enjoying it. But at the same time we're competitive and the only thing in our mind is getting the
win.

-- Rangers DH Michael Young

Cruz tied the game with a massive solo home run in the seventh, and after that it was a battle of the bullpens with the Rangers' 'pen being the eventual winner. Feldman, who looks a little like (pick one) a young Abraham Lincoln or the Unabomber with his playoff beard, held the Tigers scoreless for 4 1/3 innings and four other relievers followed with four more scoreless innings. The Texas bullpen has allowed no runs and five hits while striking out 16 in 12 2/3 innings in the series. "It's like a world-class relay team. Just hand him the baton and let him go," reliever Mike Adams said.

Of course, the game could have ended much sooner had either team been able to take advantage of scoring opportunities in the ninth inning. The Tigers loaded the bases in the top of the ninth (inhale), but left them stranded when Texas shortstop Elvis Andrus caught, juggled and held on to Victor Martinez's two-out blooper to center with his back to the plate (exhale). "I don't know how it got into my glove, but I made the catch," Andrus said. "And that's what I'll always say, 'I made that catch.'"

The Rangers loaded the bases with nobody out in the bottom of the ninth (inhale) but also failed to score when Tigers first baseman Miguel Cabrera turned a nifty 3-2-3 double play to end the inning (exhale).

Texas loaded the bases again in the 11th on singles by Young and Adrian Beltre, followed by a botched fly ball off the bat of Mike Napoli that dropped in for another hit. That brought up Cruz, who had been hit in the lower forearm/upper wrist in his previous at-bat in the ninth. That HBP was so painful Cruz fell to the ground and wondered whether his arm was broken. "I thought it was worse," said Cruz, whose wrist was still sore and on ice while he talked with reporters after the game. "Thank God I got a chance to win the game."

The only question when Cruz hit the 1-2 pitch from Detroit reliever Ryan Perry was whether it would stay fair. When it did, the only question was whether he would be able to find home plate through the crush of teammates crowding there to greet him. "It was crazy, they were throwing water on me at first and I didn't know where I was going," he said. "They hit me a few times and then I found the plate."

[+] EnlargeScott Feldman
Harry How/Getty ImagesScott Feldman pitched brilliantly in Game 2, tossing 4 1/3 innings of scoreless relief.

Cruz hit 29 home runs this season, but it gives you an indication of how potent the Rangers' lineup is that he's been batting seventh. He struggled in the division series (1-for-12 with five strikeouts), but has three homers and has accounted for six of the Rangers' nine runs in the ALCS. "Nelson is starting to get it together," Washington said. "I think as we move forward you won't see him in the seventh slot."

Monday's game was such a classic that Michael Young said, "We definitely recognized the kind of game we were in and we did want to make sure we were enjoying it. But at the same time we're competitive and the only thing in our mind is getting the win."

Which brings up the only problem with this series: With the Tigers down 0-2, it may end too soon.

Jim Caple is a senior writer for ESPN.com.

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Senior Writer, ESPN.com